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The Magic School Bus (shortened to The Bus or simply Bus) is the eponymous high-tech, sentient, and anthropomorphic school bus with Magicware that The Frizzles' class and Liz use to go on field trips. It is most often piloted by the Frizzle sisters or Liz, but occasionally, in the original PBS television series, one of the kids will take the wheel, or it will take on a shape (such as an animal) that allows it to "drive" itself. Along with its ability to travel on land, in water, through the air, and even deep space, it is also able to change its size (along with its passengers), shapeshift (Inside the Earth), and teleport (Pigs in the Wind).
- 1 Technical Details
- 2 MagicWare
- 3 Trivia
- 4 Alternate forms
Note: This part uses the North American terms when it comes to car terminology. e.g. American "trunk" and "hood" vs. European "wing" and "boot".
Books by Joanna Cole and Bruce Degen
The Magic School Bus is somewhat based on a 1970s Ward International school bus with fender skirts on the rear wheels, and the front windshield being 2 different windows. Its overhead sign shows a "message" depending on the language, such as "WAHOO" or "BLAST OFF" in English, very similar to electronic "welcome" signs.
In this incarnation, the Bus does retain some qualities from the original books, being based on a '70s Ward school bus. It retains everything listed above, however the only new addition is a grille spine going down the center of its grille nose. Instead of showing words, the electronic sign overhead shows a picture.
Rides Again series
The Bus has been "upgraded" to a Thomas Built Buses school bus. Similar to the original books, the grille spine is lost. Some new changes are one rearview mirror instead of two mirrors, a radio antenna, and a roof-hatch. Its overhead sign is colored black, and it does not show automated messages or pictures, nor does it read "school bus".
In the original television series and the book series, the Bus was painted fully Walkerville yellow. In The Magic School Bus Rides Again, it is painted in the common North American School Bus yellow with black stripes. In the original TV series and books, it sports decals that relate to the topic. It doesn't have this set of decorations in Rides Again, reserving the scientific flair for Ms. Frizzle.
It isn't very clear how the Bus works, but there are various hints. We can see how fuel gets to the engine in the TV episode, "Revving Up", but in another episode, "Gets Ready, Set, Dough", it is revealed that its magic comes from various devices, with the most used ones being the Shrinkerscope and the Mesmerglober, and in newer media, the Warp Drive, which controls the Bus' teleportation and warp-speed when traveling through space so that it doesn't take the students many years to travel from Mercury to Neptune or Pluto.
The Shrinkerscope serves mostly as an internal method of size manipulation from the Bus itself. In the episode "Butterfly and the Bog Beast", it is revealed that there is a second size-manipulation device: the Porta-Shrinker, which is a pink ray gun that is mainly used for shrinking someone without shrinking the Bus. When someone attempts to activate the Porta-Shrinker when it is damp or wet, a dew-dinger alarm sounds.
The Mesmerglober controls the Bus' ability to shape-shift, changing it into various vehicles or animals at the driver's will. It is activated by a red or gray lever on the dashboard, and also buttons on the touchscreen. Most of the time, when it transforms, the bus stretches and squashes, then spins around fast. When the bus stops, it's in it's new form. In "Flexes its Muscles", it is revealed that the Bus starts transforming uncontrollably if the Mesmerglober doesn't work. The Mesmerglober and the Shrinkerscope often work together to transform the Bus into animals, such as a frog in "Hops Home", a salmon in "Goes Upstream", and an eagle in "I Spy with My Animal Eyes".
The source of the Bus's magic is different from canon to canon. In the TV series, the Bus's magic comes from a software called MagicWare (In the Zone). If the MagicWare is updating, sometimes the Bus glitches, the kids change into animals and plants, grow up into adults or revert back to an infant, and the Bus goes south. All the devices that run MagicWare, like the Mesmerglober and Shrinkerscope, are powered by a MagBatt (Making Magic, short for magic battery), which runs on energy from the center of the Sun, as well as true courage and perseverance from the Frizz and the kids. When the Bus doesn't update, it freezes and loses its magic, becoming a normal school bus without any anthropomorphism. In the canon of the books, the Bus runs on "Magic Gasoline".
In the holiday special, it is revealed that most of the MagicWare devices are made of plastic.
- In official Scholastic media, the Bus's common name is capitalized (e.g., "Where will the Bus take you?")
- The bus was able to float around in lava. This may lead to the fact that the bus may be physically indestructible.
- The Bus cares deeply about its passengers, such as in "Gets Ants in Its Pants" when it was concerned about Keesha when she gave up being the director of the ant movie and ran outside the anthill in the rain.
- The Bus is sometimes referred to as its current transformation. This mostly happened in the Joanna Cole books and the Science Chapter Books. However, it has happened in the television series. In "Cold Feet", the Bus was referred to as "The Busigator".
- The Magic School Bus appears to be sentient, mainly due to having a face (headlight eyes, grille nose, bumper mouth, rearview mirror ears). This is further shown in Taking Flight when it gets angry at Liz for constantly making it crash when Tim and Phoebe were trying to save the rest of the class, in the opening when it looked a bit scared upon seeing an octopus, and in Gets Lost in Space when it felt exhausted upon Janet overloading it with "proof" she went to all the planets of the Solar System. It is shown The Magic School Bus is incapable of talking, but it is capable of panting and coughing. It does communicate by honking its horn, its "language".
- While the Bus has no gender, some of its transformations include a female eagle (in I Spy with My Animal Eyes) hen (in Cracks a Yolk) and a female salmon (in Goes Upstream). This may imply that the Bus is female. This would also be in line with English vehicular parlance, in which vehicles are often referred to by female pronouns.
- The Magic School Bus has few modifications throughout the series, which include:
- [] (Original books, Microsoft video games, 1994 TV series,)
- It had fender skirts covering its rear wheels.
- It is based on a 1970s Ward International school bus.
- 2017-present (Rides Again TV series, Rides Again books)
- Its fender skirts are removed from the rear wheels, thus revealing its rear wheels.
- An antenna and a roof hatch are added.
- On the back, it has two doors instead of one.
- Its bottom lip is a darker shade of silver than its top lip.
- Its headlight eyes turn light aqua.
- It now has one extra window on its sides.
- It is based on modern American school buses.
- The Bus's original 1986 design returns in the 2021 original-series book "Explores Human Evolution".
- The Bus has many similarities to anthropomorphic vehicles across fiction.
- It is revealed in "Three in One" that the Frizzles built the Bus during a Gizmos that Go contest about magic.
- It's revealed in "In The Zone" that it reverts back to being a normal bus when it loses its magic.
- The Magic Motorbike shares many similarities with the Bus.
- Starting with the Season 2 episode, Kids in Space, and the rest of late Season 2, the Bus is animated in CGI, however it sometimes it animated in 2D whenever a character directly interacts with it (e.g. opening its hood)
- [] (Original books, Microsoft video games, 1994 TV series,)
Throughout the books, video games, PBS series and Netflix series, the Bus has undergone various different forms. Here are some of them:
Water vehicles (Submarines and the like)
Miscellaneous (objects, buildings, water, plants)
- Spelling of the name in the subtitles for Kids in Space